PW: What inspired you to write your latest novel, Walk Through Darkness, an account of a fugitive slave's agonizing search for his lost love?
DD: My mother, a historian, discovered during her research that there were many interracial marriages during slavery. Not all the romances during this time came from rape, rage and violence. That came later with the introduction of laws to preserve the institution of slavery. This is the genesis of Walk Through Darkness, my effort to address an alternate view of the role of immigration and interracial unions in slavery. I wanted to write challenging, meaningful fiction.
PW: Here, as in your first novel, you seem to find the proper blend of historical detail and story. Were you very conscious of this balancing act while you were writing?
DD: Sometimes I had to pull back from using all of the research I had, to allow the story to breathe after setting the time and scene. I've read books where the author has used a lot of research, but it hasn't helped the quality of the story. Although I'm constantly inspired by history, I try to always remember that there is a difference between a historian and a novelist.
PW: One controversial element of your work is your use of violence. Why is violence necessary in your fiction?
DD: Although both lead characters in my novels need to be strong in a very violent world, neither resorts to violence, even in William's case in Walk Through Darkness, when he is constantly faced with that choice. I've never tried to glorify violence, but the world is violent. I could not write truthfully about either character without including or acknowledging the violence of their time.
PW: The women in your novels have stirred some controversy as well, with many claiming they are too pure, too innocent, too devoted, too one-dimensional.
DD: In both of my novels, the main characters are men. The debate on how I depict women characters should wait. This is the start of my career, with two depictions of what are men's worlds. Still, I think the women in my stories are fairly complete characters and quite complex, especially the character of Dover in Walk Through Darkness.
PW: Why is love so vital to William's story?
DD: When William arrives at the end of his search, it's love for Dover that has propelled him. He thinks he could have lived his life as a slave if she had been with him. The fact that she has been removed makes his life unbearable. He never pauses to feel the elation of freedom because it's all about her. Can you imagine how important love must have been for slaves? Love must have added so much meaning to lives that were so full of horror and suffering.
PW: The settings for both books, the Old West and the world of slavery, are so much of the American experience. As an African-American man now living in Scotland, how has your relocation affected your view of your homeland?
DD: I feel very patriotic. America has so many things going for it. In fact, we don't have the language to really describe it. It changes and mutates, placing things that should not go together in the same space. Issues of race and culture are still being worked out and aren't really fully understood. I'm interested in raising some interesting questions about race, racism and identity, both racial and national identity. The American experiment is still so new. We seem to lack the courage to fully explore and define it.